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Life as a Movie Extra

Part of the Crowd

Bonus points if you can spot me. [Credit: The Festival Movie]

Even though I've bored a lot of my friends to death with this subject, there are still people in the world that do not know I'm an occasional film extra. It's unusual, especially in a quiet, stuck-in-the-past town like mine, but it does bring about some great conversations. 

With the recent release of another film that I was a part of, The Festival, with Inbetweeners star Joe Thomas as the lead, I thought I'd shed some light on what it's actually like being an extra on a movie set.

How did you get into it?

This is almost always the first question I get, and I always leave people baffled when I respond:

"Completely by accident."

You'd think an intelligent, dashing young man such as myself (sarcasm) would know what he's doing by signing up to a casting agency, but alas, this is not the case, so let me explain. For some reason, I came across an advert online asking for extras on Rogue One, the excellent first Star Wars Anthology film. 

I freaking adore Star Wars, so the opportunity to appear in a movie was too good to pass up. So off I went, filling out an application to fulfill my Star Wars dreams. A couple of weeks later I had an invitation to a casting in London; naturally, I was buzzing. 

After my workplace begrudgingly let me have the time off, I went over to London for the afternoon to see what was what.

Upon reaching there, I quickly realised I hadn't done what I thought I'd done. Thankfully, it wasn't a casting couch scenario (if you know, you know).

What I had done was sign up for an actual casting platform (the name of which is Pop, if anyone fancies joining too; they're awesome). So now all I had to do was wait for my first offer.

What films have you done?

Unfortunately, I can't talk about all the films I have done so far, as some of which are not out yet. However, after a couple of false starts, my first movie ended up being Wonder Woman. A pretty big deal, yes. No, I have not, and will not, stop talking about it. 

"That's an amazing first film!" 

You're absolutely right, dear reader. It was amazing, as was I in my brief cameo as a "middle-class businessman" during the London scenes. I was somewhat relieved I ended up featuring in the only DCEU film that's elevated above "bang-average."

After a rather long dry spell, I found myself travelling to Lulworth for Bestival last year to film a movie while it was happening around me. This ended up being the aforementioned The Festival, which just came out yesterday at the time of writing, so go and watch it!

I think it goes without saying that it was definitely the most fun shoot I've had so far. The days were spent filming and the nights were spent watching live music and drinking, responsibly of course. I was still a professional at work. 

I've recently worked on two other movies over the summer. One of which will be on Netflix, and the other... I really don't know. 

What's an average day like?

An average day can vary, it really does depend on the scale and type of production you end up a part of. It goes without saying that the days are long; don't expect to be getting that good a nights' sleep the day before or after a shoot. Call times can be incredibly early, so you best be ready for some early mornings. Personally, I never am, but hey, do as I say and not as I do. 

The most painful call times were for Wonder Woman, I had to be in *somewhere* in London for 5 AM every day, and therefore needed to wake up at 2 AM so I could be out the door for half past so my very kind father could drive me there. 

Depending on your call time there can be a lot of waiting first thing, queuing for changing into your costumes, getting food, etc. 

Period movies will obviously require separate days for getting a costume fitted. Some will require more than one person to actually get on, but you'll look the part once it's done. 

Modern day films will occasionally allow you to wear your own clothes depending on what it's for. So naturally, I looked like a classic #raver on set of The Festival. It had nothing to do with the sequined camo jacket that the crew gave me. 

Once the first call for action is made, that's you for the day. You may not be needed for every scene or shot that's being made at any given time, but you can't go too far and do what you like. You need to be ready to be called up at all times. 

Big Hollywood blockbusters like Wonder Woman are more than likely going to require every single extra at all times, because of the sheer amount of camera angles they will film. In my three days of working on the movie, I worked on three scenes. Yes, a scene a day. 

There have been a few times where days have dragged or people have started getting funny about lunch breaks or just wanting to be somewhere else. While I understand the days are long and it can agitate people, you're wasting energy by being miserable. Everyone there is in the same boat as you; if you can remain polite and good-humoured, you'll find it much more bearable, and you're more likely to score extra work if you make an impression. 

As a penguin once said, just smile and wave.

You will predominantly only be required to just go about your business, as instructed, in the background. While none of this is particularly difficult by any stretch of the imagination, it can get tiring after a long day. It's perfect for those who may have confidence issues in front of the camera, and while you may be surrounded by a lot of people, you don't really have to interact with them unless you're told to. 

It was great for me. I tend to just find a small group of people that don't look scary and then cling to them for the rest of the day.

Films like The Festival are somewhat rogue-elements to this. For the most part, we filmed on location while at Bestival, so the actual extra-count was low (around ten of us for the first few days) and the majority of the background was made up of the genuine, drunk, unsuspecting public, everal of which would frequently shout, "Oi, that's Simon from the Inbetweeners!" at Joe Thomas in between (sometimes during) takes. 

Do you get paid a lot?

The short answer is yes. However, again this can vary depending on the type and scale of production. So far, I'm rather fortunate to have not taken home anything less than £100 for a day of shooting. Obviously, if you're travelling from out of the area, you do need to take fuel costs into account, but this is partially covered depending, again, on the production.

What can earn you a serious packet, is the bonuses which you can earn. 

You can earn bonuses for:

  • An early start.
  • A late finish.
  • A night shoot.
  • Having dialogue and/special directions from the Director or ADs.
  • Travel allowance.
  • Having your hair cut. Yes, really. 

Those are just some of the bonuses which I've earned extra money for during my time as an extra. I can't say it doesn't help make it that bit more worthwhile. For the three days I worked on Wonder Woman, plus the fitting, I took home over £500. 

Is it worth doing?

One hundred and ten percent yes. You'd need to sign up to a lot of agencies or get a lucky break to make a living out of it, but as a side job, it's so much fun. Working as an extra allows me to work with people I'd never normally come across on a regular day to day life. Acting as someone else is great for escapism and trying all kinds of weird and wonderful costumes can be good fun. 

What agencies do you recommend?

Most of my work has been through Pop; they're great. I've also joined Backstage and Uni-Versal Extras. Other agencies with good reputations are 20/20 Casting, Mad Dog Casting, and Phoenix Casting.

Thank you for reading!

I hope someone's learned something from this. If you have enjoyed this article, please share it around with anyone else you think may be interested in it. DMs on all my social media pages are open if you wish to discuss anything said here in more detail.

And, if you can, it'd mean a great deal to me if you could leave a tip for my work. Every dollar counts, and you'll be helping me through to my next article. 

:) 

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